Sunday, October 26

Book Corner: What no one told you

When I first heard about The Adventures of Johnny Bunko, to say I was skeptical would be an understatement. I mean, it’s a career guide in the form of a manga or comic book – depending on which term you are familiar with.

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From what I understand, career guides are supposed to be big serious books that you read at the library during the last years of high school. Or possibly when you are just starting out in your career and in need of some sound advice. The career guides I’m used to echo what counselors and my parents told me as I graduated high school – make a plan, choose something safe like accounting or business and then, work hard. In all that advice from the experts, no one ever mentioned anything about job satisfaction or actually liking your job.

And then we come to the simple fact that this book is a manga. Confession time: I have never sat down and read a comic book, Japanese or American. To my thinking, comics are frivolous and only for kids. Real adults don’t read them, despite what you may see on the trains in Japan.

But wait a minute, let’s think about this…career guides are usually boring and useless because of outdated information and no fun to use; young people need career guidance more than any other segment of the population; and young people seem to love the ease of reading comic books.

Well, what do you know? This book sounds like it could be on to something. After reading it, I can gladly tell you that the author, New York Times best-seller Daniel H. Pink, and artist, Rob Ten Pas, have put together something special. Yes it’s the first American business book in manga, but its much more than that.

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It might just be the perfect guidebook for people thinking about their future or current careers. If I had any say in the matter, it would become required reading for all high school students. I wish someone would have given me a copy when I was younger.
Pink says he was inspired to create the book after seeing how Japanese tear through manga. He was quoted as saying people were “racing through it, devouring it. Coming from prose, I’d love to see someone read my stuff with that greedy speed.”

He also said that manga, contrary to my original thinking, “is a very potent way to tell stories, convey ideas, and give advice in a world where people have limited time and attention spans.”

In talking about the types of career guides I am used to, Pink said, “Career books in the United States are painfully, alarmingly out of sync with the times. They’re packed with information that’s outdated before it’s even published. What they want from a book is what they can’t get from the Internet: strategic lessons, broad lessons, those things that elude Google-ing.”

And that is exactly what the book gives the reader. Yes, it takes less than an hour to read, and yes, if you really wanted to, you could flip to the last page and see a list of the six key points, but that is not the point. This is a book that you actually tear through and along the way, learn some valuable lessons.

Sunday, October 19

Bless this...

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Went on a trip the other day to some small town called Nakayama in Chiba. It was only 40 minutes outside of Ueno, but it felt really far outside of Tokyo. We went to visit this small gallery – the Higashiyama Kaii Memorial Hall if you must know – but the temple on the walk from the train sation was almost as interesting.

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My girl and I weren't sure if this temple was famous, but it sure was nice. There were hardly any people which always makes us happy. On the temple grounds there were also a lot of cemeteries. Outside of one of them there was actually a salesman chatting up some older ladies about securing a plot. According to the sign, it was quite a deal, only about $20,000. I'm not sure if that is over- or under-priced to have your name carved on a a stone for eternity...but it sure did look beautiful though.
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As we were leaving, we heard some chanting and bell ringing coming from behind this large Buddha. Oh, just to set the scene, here is the enlightened one.
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So, we followed the chanting up and behind Buddha. And this is what we encountered. Can you figure out what's going on?

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This Burberry-pants-wearing lady and her husband were getting their (newish) BMW 5 series wagon blessed. Hence the opening of all the doors and such. I never considered the need to bless a car, but I guess its not any worse or better than praying before eating. And while applaud that they got their car washed prior to the blessing, I think not cleaning out the tennis gear in the back was in poor taste.

Just in case you were wondering what shoes I wore on such an (un)eventful you go:

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OK. As for music this week, I give you a 10 min clip from Starkey's 15 minute set on Mary Anne Hobb's big show from last month – Generation Bass. It was good, I mean as good as six 15-minute sets can be. But Starkey's was the most impressive in my mind. As you watch the clip, after the short interview, the drops at 5:55 and 7:45 get me moving the most.

If you want to hear the whole show, click HERE. It is 2 hours of mostly new dubstep. And its worth a listen, even if you only get into each set as it ends.

That's it for this one. Hope to be back posting again soon.

Sunday, October 12

Book Corner: Even superheros can have bad days

It seems the world has been taken over by Batman, Spiderman, Superman, the X-Men and all their friends. Superheroes began by infiltrating the comic book world, then they moved to our television screens, before staging a complete takeover of our theaters. By now, it seems that even the staunchest critic would have been able to find some hero to believe in.

(This is the U.K. cover I bought, much better than the U.S. version you will see later.)

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But if that is not the case, and you are still looking for a way to join in the fun – this book gives you yet another option. “Determined to become costumed crime-fighters, but baffled by a lack of super-villains to tackle, the quintet soon finds the ramifications of their new powers are more complicated than they anticipated, and that human (even themselves) are much more fragile than they’d ever realized.”

You guessed correctly – this book attempts to provide a realistic portrayal of what it would be if a group of five average college students were suddenly blessed/cursed with super-abilities. Admit it, just like everyone else living in this hero-obsessed world, you have imagined what it would be like to be strong enough to lift a car without breaking a sweat or fly like a bird, effortless and free.

But maybe strength or flying wasn’t what you had hoped for, maybe you had always wanted to hear other people’s thoughts, or to be able to run faster than a speeding bullet. This book has those powers, plus a personal favorite – the power of invisibility.

The students that these powers are bestowed upon are believable, if less than completely satisfying. The five students are not stock characters that are often found on poorly written TV shows, but they feel slightly underdeveloped.

They do some of the things you would do if you got these powers, like run to Egypt to see the pyramids in an afternoon or spy on the people you care about. But they don’t allow themselves to do anything really bad, something most people wouldn’t be able to resist. They are a little too good, too earnest and too moral. (But, maybe that says more about my view of people, rather than the author’s storytelling ability.)

Superpowers (bad)
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But whatever you think of their morals, the characters do lack depth, and since the readers spend most of their time with these five kids, it is not exactly an ideal situation.

None of the characters has a clear development arc and they are a bit thin and static. Now as a reader, you could take that two different ways: you could put that to the fact that this is simply a brief look at one period in these characters’ lives, or you could see it as a lost opportunity in searching deeper into how these powers affect people.

But the thin characters are not the biggest problem I have with this book, my biggest complaint is that it gives away a couple plot points before they have had time to fully mature. (I for one, won’t do the same thing by stating them here, but be forewarned, before the halfway point you will know more than you want to know.)

The book feels a bit too eager to please. I don’t know if this should be blamed on first-time writer David J. Schwartz or maybe an aggressive editor. But, if I had my say, I would let the story build up the suspense, and not give it away. I also might not beat my message of how fear makes people do stupid things into the reader’s head. I might tone that down, just a bit.

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With those minor changes, observant readers would be able to enjoy the book’s journey a bit more, without feeling like the writer is holding their hands at ever turn. And don’t worry about the non-observant readers, they will figure it out in due time, as long as they finish the book.

Now, don’t take all this negativity to heart, this is not a bad book. It was not exactly the page-turner I thought it would be, or the in-depth look at how superpowers would effect your life I hoped it would be. What it is, is an entertaining and face-paced story, filled with humor and an interesting supporting cast.

In this age of superhero overload, this book provides a nuanced look at how superpowers would affect people in the real world, even if it doesn’t do it flawlessly.

Monday, October 6

Traveling man

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Yes, I was in Honolulu – and no, I wasn't happy about it. My direct flight to Minneapolis quickly spiraled into a 36-hour marathon trip that had me fly from Tokyo to Hawaii, wait for 8 hours than fly to Minneapolis. Not fun at all. But, it was worth it to see my people, even if for only 27 hours.

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Luckily, I had some new shoes to wear on the trip that just wouldn't end. These Nike Rejuven8 fit the bill perfectly. Besides the obvious breathability, they are extremely comfortable and light.

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This version was released to celebrate the Olympics in Beijing. The regular version doesn't have the speckled mid-sole, but this tier zero version does. And I like it. It also came with an Olympic inspired interchangeable liner. But, I kept things simple with the black liner - which made for the perfect in-flight slipper.

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As you can see, the other liner really represents the Olympic flavor. Shocking, but I have yet to wear the multicolored version. Maybe someday. If anyone does a lot of flying, I highly recommend these kicks. From now on, these are my travel shoes. (Which will same me a lot time debating and deciding which shoes to wear each time I fly anywhere.)

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I don't get to ride in cars all the much here in Tokyo, and certainly don't get to see many corn fields. But that is really neither here nor there. It was good to see my whole extended family all in one place, even if the occasion was not happiest. One happier occasion is coming up b-day. And I got an early gift.

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While shopping my girl's Goyard wallet I spotted this orange masterpiece. I have been pining for this wallet ever since, and thanks to a very generous soul, it is now mine.

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This will be my first bi-fold wallet in many years. I might have to get a card case to hold all the various store point cards, business cards, etc that didn't fit in this fella. We are still just getting to know each other, but I have high hopes for the relationship - considering how much it was, it better work out really well.

I will leave you with a taste of this hilarious meme that I stumbled upon last week. It is the perfect mix - combining footage of revival churches and the audio from drum & bass parties. It matches up way better than it should. I had thought I had found the best one ever, (the "raise it up" at 1:45 is amazing!) but i was proved wrong when I hit this one.

Sunday, October 5

Book Corner: Making it look easy

It’s a book like these that might make the average reader think, “Gee, this looks easy. Maybe I could write a book and become rich and famous too!” And I agree, it does “look” easy, but this is only because David Sedaris is so good at his job.

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So, before you decide to quit your day job and write a collection of essays to be published and enjoyed by all the world, you have to ask yourself some questions.

These questions would have to include: Am I funny? Do funny and bizarre things often happen to me? Did I always keep a diary, so that I can still remember the name the girl who sat next to me in 9th grade? Will the people in my life, including family and friends, allow me to reveal their deepest secrets for the whole world to laugh at? Can I share some of my most embarrassing moments? And more importantly, can I turn that personal mortification into something that readers can enjoy?

If you answered “no” to any of these questions, close your laptop and quit dreaming of becoming the next David Sedaris. He is the true champion of the humorous autobiographical story and these 22 essays represent him in his prime.

Although the book is a bit uneven – not every single essay is milk-coming-out-your-nose funny – it shows Sedaris’ confidence in his storytelling ability. He feels assured enough to often bring the reader through an unlikely chain of association, and as often as not, bring it all back together again.

For example, he begins one story at his house in the French countryside at mid-morning. Sadly for him, the town officials, as they do from time to time, have shut off the water unannounced. Now, each time this happens, Sedaris is faced with the awful conundrum of needing coffee to think, but needing to think in order to make coffee when he has no water.

This leads to the sleepy consideration of using wine, day-old tea and even the water in the vase of flowers his partner gave him the day before. I won’t give away which option he chooses, but rest assured, you won’t be able to look at vase-water the same again.

But from this inauspicious morning in France, he takes the reader on a journey to unexpected places – buying drugs from a fighting couple in a mobile home in rural North Carolina, to an encounter with a well-dressed couple on a plane whose language would make a sailor blush. All of these associations are done with so much ease and wit, that it almost hides the skill and quality of writing.

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The last quarter of the book was easily the most enjoyable for me. Sedaris takes us with him on his trip to Japan. Now, why would Sedaris travel to Japan you ask? Well, to quit smoking of course!

Sedaris cheerfully recounts his all the significant episodes in his life connected to smoking. The telling of his grade school trip to a tobacco factory, where they handed out free packs to the kids was a memorable one. But as much as Sedaris loved his cigarettes, his love of clean and luxury hotels – which in recent years have gone increasingly smoke-free – led to him making the difficult choice to quit smoking.

And as anyone who has read Sedaris before knows, he lacks will power. And as anyone who has tried to quit smoking knows, will power is what you need to quit. So, to help himself, Sedaris reads as many self-help books as he can and one of them recommended that changing your routine is one of the best ways to break the terrible nicotine habit.

Sedaris concludes that there is no better way to change your routine than to move to a foreign land, and about a week after he decides, he and his partner head for the land of the rising sun.

His time in Japan plays out directly from his dairy. He takes us with him from the moment of landing, all through his three-month stay in Tokyo. His battle to quit smoking, learn some of the language and conform to some of the rules and customs of Japanese society – all at the same time – provide the best this book has to offer.

So, in closing, for all you prospective writers out there, save your energy and quit dreaming. I recommend you simply enjoy a master storyteller tell masterful stories.